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(en) Mexico, Chiapas, Media, The Mysterious Silence of the Mexican Zapatistas

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 11 May 2004 07:56:54 +0200 (CEST)

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"After more than 10 years of war and 20 years of organizing, we
can't take a single step back."
LA REALIDAD, Chiapas, April 29, 2004. It's two in the morning on Thursday,
April 29. Unable to sleep, we can see, illuminated by a distant lantern,
the shining eyes of a person whose face is covered by a ski mask. “Don’t
worry, comrade,” says the face behind the mask, observing our
restlessness, “they’re just having a meeting.” We try
to get to sleep. Around three, we hear voices, mostly women.
“Rest, friend, they’re just doing some organizing,”
says someone else, as we hear horses galloping far away.

Such nights are typical for the insurgents of the Zapatista Army of
National Liberation (EZLN in its Spanish initials) in the
Lacandon jungle. They work mysteriously during the day, and
also at night. They act with amazing caution, and in silence.
Their wisdom comes from their patience. They are at war.

Among them, sometimes a gesture, a glance, or a hiss is enough
to tell another what one wants, needs, wants to say about
someone else, or what message needs to be transmitted.

When an outsider arrives to these ejidos, or communal lands, he
or she is received by members of a committee, while the others
– mostly of Tojolabal origin – watch and comment
amongst themselves in their own language. Nobody can give
outsiders any information. Nobody. The Zapatistas have laws,
and the laws much be followed.

A journalist here needs authorization to do an interview, or to
take photographs. One must learn to be patient -– very
patient. If the Zapatistas do not want to answer a question, they
respond, in the most kind and gentle way, “Who knows?”

These masked men and women are in a new process of
organization. Since February 14, neither the Clandestine
Revolutionary Indigenous Committee nor the General Command
of the EZLN had released a single communiqué.

However, the death of Authentic Journalist and “Governor in
rebellion” Amado Avedaño Figueroa on April 29 in the city
of San Cristóbal de las Casas obliged the Zapatistas to break
their silence. A letter, sent by Subcomandante Marcos to the
Avedaño family and the people of Mexico, included these

But for the news of his death, it could be that Don Amado had
already died, and that what I heard had not been a broken branch
just as April turns the calendar’s corner into the next year.
But if it had been a broken branch that I heard, then I would have
been able to think that perhaps Don Amado had not died, and
that he had only turned that corner, and that though we will not
see him now, in the coming year he will appear again.

We first knew of Don Amado, and then we saw him…. And it
was mutual. Or is. Because it could be that he has died. But it
could be that he has not….

Don Amado had, or has, a problem from which not all of us
suffer. In place of a heart he had a house, at times disguised as a
newspaper suspended in time, or as a leaf, or as a shadow
government, or as a storyteller.

And in his house, that is to say, his heart, Don Amado had
opened the doors and windows long ago to those who are the
color of the earth, and with them shared his roof, his gaze, his ear
and his word.

At the “P.S.” at the end of the letter, the masked
subcomandante wrote:

As if we had not finished a hug, so shall we leave it for now… as
if the silence is waiting… do you hear it?

The Zapatistas in La Realidad and the other caracoles (their main
support bases) are in a stage of silence now. But the men,
women, young and elderly here are in constant preparation.

It is time to be quiet, they say now. They need to strengthen their
organization. They have disappeared into the mountains. And
surprises are on the way.

Be Like the Snails

“We are at war, my friend” says the rebel commander
who calls himself Comandante Bernal. “That is why we all
must be prepared. Our enemy, the bad government, certainly
does not sleep, and so we must not sleep either; we must be
better-prepared then they are.”

Bernal says that the Zapatista organization is similar to the life of
a caracol, also the Spanish word for “snail” or

“Snails are tough little animals. They work in silence, walking
slowly and always forward, never backward. If it rains, or if the
sun is very hot, they stay on track. When they are on the move,
not even a river or an intense downpour can stop them. And if
they stumble or fall, they get back up and keep going. We must
be like the snails.”

The sound one can make with the shells of bigger caracoles can
be used for communication – for instance, to call meetings.
There are a lot of snails living in Zapatista territory, and it is
common to come across them walking in the mountains.
Children can sell them for a few cents as souvenirs from these
insurgent communities.

In July, 2003, in “Part I: A Conch,” from his multipart
communiqué “Chiapas: The Thirteenth Steel,”
Subcomandante Marcos wrote:

Perhaps we might guess what it is about if we look carefully. The
Zapatistas are very otherly – I don’t know if I already told
you that – and so they imagine things before those things
exist, and they think that, by naming them, those things will
begin to have life, to walk…and, yes, to create problems. And so
I am sure they have already imagined something, and they are
going to begin to act as if that something already exists, and no
one is going to understand anything for some time, because, in
effect, once named, things begin to take on body, life and a

Then we could look for some clue… No, I don’t know
where to look… I believe their way is looking with their ears and
listening with their eyes. Yes, I know it sounds complicated, but
nothing else occurs to me. Come, let’s keep on walking.

Look, the stream is turning into a whirlpool there, and in its
center the moon is shimmering its sinuous dance. A whirlpool…
or a shell.

They say here that the most ancient say that other, earlier ones
said that the most first of these lands held the figure of the shell in
high esteem. They say that they say that they said that the conch
represents entering into the heart, that is what the very first ones
with knowledge said. And they say that they say that they said
that the conch also represents leaving the heart in order to walk
the world, which is how the first ones called life. And more, they
say that they say that they said that they called the collective with
the shell, so that the word would go from one to the other and
agreement would be reached. And they also say that they say that
they said that the conch was help so that the ear could hear even
the most distant word. That is what they say that they say that
they said. I don’t know. I am walking hand in hand with you,
and I am showing you what my ears see and my eyes hear. And I
see and hear a shell, the “pu’y’, as they say in their
language here. *

The five caracol towns are: Oventik (also known by the Zapatistas
as “Resistance and rebellion for humanity”), Morelia
(“Whirlwind of our words”), La Garrucha
(“Resistance towards the new dawn”), Roberto Barrios
(“Caracol that speaks for all”), and La Realidad
(“Mother of the caracoles from the sea of our dreams”).

An Innovative Communications System

It may be hard to believe, but the indigenous rebels here in the
jungle have an extraordinary communication system: radio
communication between the five caracoles, several towns with
internet access, parabolic antennas installed at strategic points,
computers, and communications committees to oversee all of it.
They all work in total secrecy.

There is also Radio Insurgente (97.9 FM), broadcasting from four
o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock at night. Radio
Insurgente lets the Zapatistas hear messages, communiqués,
and music, from traditional Mexican corridos to contemporary
protest music.

The Zapatistas wake up, and as they go about their activities,
listen to the radio almost all day long, turning it off only before
they go to sleep. They call it “horizontal” media.

Sometimes the signal is not very clear, other times it’s barely
audible, or there is no transmission at all, but the insurgents
know that they have their own media.

They told us that the radio station is portable. One day it could be
installed in one place, and another day broadcast from
somewhere else. But always in the highlands, both for security
and to reach the largest audience.

“So, friend,” says Bernal, “we are prepared. We are at
war and communication is important. For example, they already
know, in all five caracoles that a Bolivian journalist is here with
us. They also know at what time a truck arrives at or leaves one of
our towns. In the five caracoles, they know everything.”

The Zapatistas rebels know what they are doing. Now, they are
building a new model of society, and they are conscious of this.
“The damned government has nothing to do with this, but
you can be sure that they are also preparing.”

La Realidad and the Lacandon jungle are Marcos and the
Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee’s
stronghold. Because of this, security and secrecy here are greater
than in the rest of the autonomous Zapatista lands of Chiapas.

Comandantes David, Omar, Tacho, Ramona, Estela, Fidelia are
in other caracoles, and have their own military, police, and civil

In nearly all the rebel villages, one can see a series of murals and
graffiti accompanying images of revolutionary heroes Emiliano
Zapata, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Subcomandante
Marcos. This, too, is a way of communicating, daily and

An Alternative Model

The EZLN’s current silence has a point: to strengthen the
autonomy of the Zapatista towns and the Good Government
Councils in the caracoles, to build an alternative model of society.

“If we do nothing for ourselves, we are finished,” said
Comandante Bernal. “After more than 10 years of war and 20
of organizing, we can’t take a single step back. Everyone
must move forward. We don’t expect anything from the bad
government. From the international community, yes, but we
expect the most from our own forces.”

Although poverty is a common feature to all the indigenous
towns in Chiapas, the Zapatistas know that they are better off
than before in matters of education, health, housing, roads,
production and communication. All of their policies are based on
three words: democracy, liberty and equality.

They build their own schools, roads, economic cooperatives,
hospitals, and clinics in the five caracoles. In La Realidad, for
instance, many houses now have running water and electricity,
thanks to a water turbine in a nearby river. Their houses are
generally made wood with aluminum roofs, and nearby one can
usually firewood, some farm animals and crops.

The Zapatista towns are generally orderly and clean. There are
signs everywhere advising people to preserve the local ecology
and environment.

The Tojolabal, Tzotzil, Tzetzal, Chol, Mochó, Jacalteca,
Kanjobal and other indigenous groups that live in the EZLN’s
caracoles don’t aspire to any more than to live with dignity,
liberty, equality, and true democracy.

Comandante Bernal, in an interview with Narco News, told us
that the Zapatistas are dreamers who want to build a model of a
new society. In other countries as well, he said, people are rising
up to reclaim the rights of those who have no voice.

Here, in La Realidad and other Zapatista towns of the Lacondon
jungle, those words said by countless people in different countries
around the world – “another nation is possible” –
become more of a reality each day.
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro Narco News South American
Bureau Chief May 7, 2004
* From the translation by Irlandesa, Chiapas Independent Media
Copied from infoshop.org

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